HL Deb 26 May 2004 vol 661 cc1321-4

2.37 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek to end the trafficking of women and young girls for the purposes of prostitution and the abuse of children for sexual purposes among KFOR and UNMIK personnel in Kosovo.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we shall seek to end this trafficking. Trafficking of people is an abhorrent crime, wherever and by whomsoever it occurs. In Kosovo we are working with our partners in NATO and the United Nations to establish robust preventive policies. Regulations prohibiting trafficking have been in force since 2001. We must be clear that KFOR troops, UNMIK personnel and others accused of trafficking will face justice. I welcome recent successful prosecutions of perpetrators of this crime.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister her powerful reply. However, is it correct that the provisions that were made and the regulations that were passed in January 2001 on behalf of UNMIK did make some provision for the support and protection of young women and girls who had been exploited by traffickers? My understanding is that very little action has been taken on that front. Will the Minister also give us further details of prosecutions under the regulations, because my understanding is that until two months ago there had been no prosecutions at all?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there have been two successful prosecutions of UNMIK police officers carried out by UNMIK police internal affairs in 2002 and 2003. I am afraid that we do not have figures relating to failed prosecutions. However, the noble Baroness may be interested to know that there have been investigations into more than 80 international peacekeepers since 1999. To date, at least 58 UNMIK police have been dismissed, 10 of whom were dismissed in connection with allegations of trafficking.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me what avenues there are for civil redress as opposed to prosecution against UN-employed perpetrators? More broadly, will the Government resist American pressure to renew Resolution 1422, which preserves immunity from prosecution for war crimes?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we regard trafficking as a crime and, as such, it should be dealt with as a crime. Of course, UNMIK police and the trafficking and prostitution investigation unit look into allegations that are made. As I have already indicated to your Lordships, I do not have figures for how often those investigations are not successful.

On the position of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1422, it is important to remember that the Security Council resolution does not provide impunity for persons acting in an official capacity. The text makes it clear that the obligation remains on the national jurisdictions of the state sending UN peacekeepers to prosecute any international crimes committed by those peacekeepers. We understand—although We do not share—the United States' concerns about the International Criminal Court. We are convinced that the Rome Statute does provide safeguards to avoid politically motivated prosecutions, which is the root of the United States' anxiety. However, it must be remembered that, although there is the UNSCR, that does not provide for impunity of any national.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, do the Government agree that the situation with regard to trafficking is almost as bad in Bosnia as in Kosovo? Can women still be bought and sold in the Arizona market in Brcko, in northern Bosnia? Will the Government use their uttermost endeavours to ensure that the traffickers are brought to justice in both countries?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the NATO response to the trafficking of women and children throughout the Balkans is that we have a great deal of work under way. We try to draw on the best practice of international bodies such as the United Nations, the OSCE and NGOs to develop appropriate policies for operations, training, education and awareness. We are aware that this problem is not limited to Kosovo, but I hope that my initial response to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was sufficiently robust to assure your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government will do whatever we can to stamp out this scourge.

Baroness Goudie

My Lords, does the Minister understand that this is not just a question of the trafficking of women and young girls, but the trafficking of young boys, which is sometimes forgotten in this situation? Vital Voices and NGOs are doing vital work to warn people about trafficking and bring this matter to the fore.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do understand that. I also understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, framed her Question to cover women and young girls, but she went on to talk about the prostitution and abuse of children for sexual purposes, which I took to mean children of both genders. Of course, the means, practices and policies that we are introducing cover the abuse of all children; girls and boys.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a problem with trafficking not just to Kosovo but through Kosovo and Bosnia? What powers does UNMIK have in Kosovo to deal with the trafficking of women and children through, rather than to, that country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as far as I am aware, UNMIK has the same powers if the crimes occur through the territory as it does if they occur in the territory. The powers would be the same as if the crimes occurred within the territory itself, so they would be covered by the prohibition that has been in force since 2001.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, could I return to the Minister's Answer, in two respects? First, the prosecution of two people in the police force between 2001 and now seems a fairly small response to what appears to be a fairly widespread level of abuse and prostitution. Secondly, could I ask her again about the issue of support and protection? She will know very well, as many Members of the House do, that women, girls and boys who are exploited for prostitution and sexual purposes desperately need protection to get out of that trafficking, as they may be subject to a great deal of punishment from those involved. Are there are systems of protection available to young people and women trying to get out of that terrible trade?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, United Kingdom Armed Forces are bound by codes of conduct that set out a standard of behaviour, which I hope provides for the protection of those young people. Our Armed Forces are made fully aware of the codes prior to being deployed on operations and receive regular training on diversity and gender awareness. There is also a "no walking out" policy for KFOR personnel in Kosovo.

It is important to remember that this is not just a question of prosecutions that I was able to detail for the noble Baroness. That was why I made such a point of saying that there had been 80 investigations of international personnel since 1991. They do not all result in prosecutions. Sometimes, those people are sent hack to their home countries and are prosecuted there. The noble Baroness should not for a moment think that those two prosecutions are the sum total of prosecutions, because a number of individuals would have been sent back to their home countries.

It is only fair that I add that no United Kingdom personnel in Kosovo have been implicated in offences relating to human trafficking and no investigations are outstanding. In all fairness, I should like to get that point on the record.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, as the Minister has mentioned our British Armed Forces, can she confirm that no British military personnel and no one connected with British military personnel is in any way implicated with this disgusting trade?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to expand on the answer that I have just given. It is a fact that no UK personnel in Kosovo have been implicated in offences relating to human trafficking. There are no investigations outstanding. One individual was returned to the United Kingdom from Kosovo in 1999. That was, I understand, after visiting a brothel. That person was disciplined subsequent to a court martial. Three further individuals who visited an out-of-bounds bar in 2000 were disciplined for drunken behaviour.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, does the Minister consider that enough is done to encourage the sustaining of relationships between KFOR and UNMIK personnel and family members in their home countries? Does she consider that there is sufficient rotation of personnel to foster those relationships?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, what happens to personnel when they are separated from their home base and their families for any length of time is always a difficult question. Far greater attention is paid to this issue now than was the case a few years ago, and in general governments recognise their responsibilities to try to ensure that individuals serving overseas in whatever capacity are able to keep in touch with their families. I shall try to be more specific in a letter to the noble Earl. However, I hope that he will be encouraged to learn that in the Armed Forces, for example, arrangements are made to enable telephone calls home on a regular basis and the exchange of e-mails with those loved ones at home, to ensure that those family connections are reinforced.

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